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Preventing a Recall: How to Manage 3 Threats Facing Food and Beverage Plants

Ask any food manufacturer or processor if they are committed to high safety and quality standards and their answer will, of course, be yes. But even with the strictest standards, thousands of recalls are still issued each year in the U.S.

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Joe Bove, Vice President, Design, StellarJoe Bove, Vice President, Design, Stellar

Ask any food manufacturer or processor if they are committed to high safety and quality standards and their answer will, of course, be yes. But even with the strictest standards, thousands of recalls are still issued each year in the U.S. In 2015, the FDA recalled 9,178 products, a 12-percent increase over the previous two years. If you weighed the amount of goods the USDA recalled last year alone, it would be as heavy as 52 Boeing 747 airliners. That’s a lot of product gone to waste.

There are three common reasons for food and beverage recalls (listed in no particular order):

  1. Undeclared allergens
  2. Pathogens
  3. Physical contamination

Let’s break down these three categories and examine ways you can minimize risk in your food or beverage plant:

1. Undeclared Allergens

“Undeclared allergens” describe products containing an allergen that is NOT listed on its label. FDA-regulated foods are legally required to identify major food allergens like:

  • Milk
  • Wheat
  • Peanuts
  • Soy

Even despite new beefed-up guidelines, undeclared allergens are still the most common reason for product recalls.

Prevent cross-contamination by following sanitary design principles

Undeclared allergens often stem from improper cleaning of machinery, which can lead to cross-contamination. Allergens can spread easily through contact with equipment, and unseen allergen residues can often linger and cross-contaminate the next product run despite cleaning.

Hygienic plant design is critical to protecting your facility and your customers from the start. Ensure you also establish an allergen control plan to help prevent traces of unwanted ingredients from sneaking into your production lines. You can also avoid cross-contamination by:

  • Training personnel on allergen management
  • Establishing a spill cleanup procedure
  • Thoroughly cleaning equipment between allergen processing

Ensure your plant follows sanitary design principles, as well, incorporating:

  • Non-toxic, non-absorbent product contact surfaces
  • Self-draining equipment to avoid pooling and collection of residual material
  • Smooth edges and rounded corners on equipment
  • Established cleaning and sanitizing protocols

Enforcing a strict washdown policy will also ensure your plant stays sanitary in the long run.   

Carefully inspect product labels to ensure accuracy

Undeclared allergen recalls aren’t always caused by cross-contamination. Sometimes simply mislabeling a product can trigger that dreaded domino effect.

Mislabeling can also occur when you run different varieties of a product on the same production line, including allergen and allergen-free. A prime example: the growing popularity of gluten-free products.

Careful inspection is paramount to prevent mislabeling, but that is often easier said than done. With today’s increasing packaging line speeds, you may consider a vision inspection system to catch mistakes the human eye may miss. The technology uses multiple cameras to inspect products at high speeds. It can even be set to look for specific allergen declarations on a package, with the ability to detect printing errors, as well.

2. Pathogens

Recalls due to pathogen contamination can be even more damaging than undeclared allergens because they put ALL consumers at risk, not just those with certain allergies. The top causes of pathogen-related recalls include the presence of bacteria such as listeria, salmonella and E. coli, among others.

Just like preventing undeclared allergens, avoiding a pathogen-based recall ultimately comes down to hygienic plant design. Ensure your food or beverage facility employs these key sanitary design best practices:

  • Zones of control
  • Temperature and moisture control
  • Ability to clean and maintain the facility

Zones of control

You must separate areas that house uncooked (raw) products from cooked, ready-to-eat (RTE) products. The same applies to welfare areas for employees who work in these two separate areas. In other words, personnel who handle raw products should have separate locker rooms, wash stations and cafeterias from those who work with RTE products.

Temperature and moisture control

Controlling temperature and humidity is vital to reducing mold and bacteria growth. Proper mechanical systems, ventilation and refrigeration can minimize condensation in work areas. Also, consider using air dryers to lower the dewpoint of compressed air and to avoid condensation where steam from equipment meets cold pipes.

Ability to clean and maintain the facility

When it comes to your manufacturing plant and the equipment inside, select materials that are both durable and cleanable. Remember, it doesn’t take long for bacteria to grow, so it’s essential to keep production areas as clean as possible. This means regularly washing down equipment and requiring proper hygiene among personnel, too.

3. Physical contamination

Physical contamination—when a foreign object is mixed in with a product—is often the result of some breakdown in the production process, whether by human error or malfunctioning equipment. A number of foreign objects have caused physical contamination recalls, including:

  • Glass
  • Metal
  • Plastic
  • Rubber
  • Stones
  • Wood

Various safeguards can be built into your plant’s processing design to screen for physical contaminants, such as:

  • X-ray scanning
  • Metal detection
  • Filtration mechanisms
  • Sieving processes

While these systems are helpful, they aren’t always fool-proof. It’s important to know your suppliers and to carefully examine raw materials that arrive at your facility.

You can avoid physical contamination recalls with proper preventative maintenance (a prerequisite for the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) guidelines).

It’s your responsibility to keep your consumers safe. Focus on the above best practices to prevent a recall in your food or beverage facility.

About Stellar

Stellar is a fully integrated firm focused on planning, design, pre-construction, construction, refrigeration, mechanical & utility, building envelope, and total operations & maintenance services worldwide. Visit the company's blog at

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